Two Crossbench MPs representing bushfire-ravaged electorates have called on the Senate Select Committee into COVID-19 to investigate the extra impact the pandemic is having on people in bushfire-affected communities.
Independent Federal Member for Indi Helen Haines and Centre Alliance Member for Mayo Rebekha Sharkie have written to committee chair Senator Katy Gallagher asking the Committee to hold special public hearings on the Government’s response in communities hit by the 2019-2020 fires.
Dr Haines and Ms Sharkie expect the committee would call witnesses from State and Federal departments and agencies, including the National Bushfire Recovery Agency, and other groups and community representatives.
The pair wants a detailed picture of the delivery of relief and recovery efforts and the impact of knock-on COVID-19 restrictions and support packages in bushfire communities.
“The COVID-19 restrictions, while absolutely necessary from a public health perspective, amount to a double-whammy for communities in my electorate of Indi,” Dr Haines said.
“The scale of these impacts is supported by almost 400 businesses of all sizes across Indi who recently answered my small business survey. More than 65 per cent of these businesses were in our North East bushfire-affected communities.
“But we’re lacking complete and accurate data about the number of applications and range of grants being delivered to businesses through the government’s bushfire support packages.
“Our communities deserve to know the extent of this public funding that is hitting the ground.
“The two events coming on top of each other also mean it’s hard for many to define the source of the impact on their business, and I think this is affecting the number of applications for bushfire grants in my electorate.”
Ms Sharkie said she and Dr Haines believed it was essential for the Senate committee to give special attention to bushfire communities.
“Helen and I are deeply concerned that the administration of recovery efforts has not fully taken into account the compounding impact of COVID-19,” she said.
[May 12, 2020]
Letter to the Senate’s Select Committee on COVID-19